December 17, 2017

An Advent Devotional: Put On Your Dancing Shoes!

Has God ever messed up your life? Mary, “a virgin engaged to be married to a man named Joseph” (Luke 1), had big plans. When, suddenly, the angel Gabriel showed up with big news: “Jesus is coming…in you!” And “Mary was greatly troubled,” for all the reasons you would be too: “Oh what a scandal!” “Joseph will surely leave me!” “Should I even keep the baby?” And she asked the angel a very good question: “But how is this possible, since I am a virgin?” After years of waiting and longing and hoping and preparing for the coming of Jesus, the good news (“gospel”) of his coming wasn’t such good news after all. Because it was suddenly personal, too personal. Because when God shows up, his plans are often very different from our plans.

He messed up Zechariah too. That’s the other birth announcement in Luke 1: “Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and you are to name him John.” Like Mary, he too was greatly troubled. And, like Mary, he too asked a very good question: “But how is this possible, since we’re too old to bear children?” For which he was struck mute. Why? Because Scripture says he asked the question out of unbelief.

Mary asked the same question, but believed. Believers, like unbelievers, don’t always understand. Believers, like unbelievers, ask tough questions. But, at the end of the day, believers believe, which means they trust God, God’s word, and God’s plans. That means dying to ourselves and our plans that we might live for God and his plans (Galatians 2). That means praying again every single day: “Thy kingdom come, not mine; Thy will be done on earth, in and through me, as it is in heaven.” That means confessing, along with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant; may God’s plan for my life be fulfilled.”

While Zechariah was struck with silence, Mary was struck with singing and dancing and leaping for joy. “Hail Mary, full of grace!” exclaimed her cousin Elizabeth, “Blessed are you among women! Blessed is the child you will bear! Blessed is she who has believed the word of the Lord!”

Blessed is a state of deep happiness and “inexpressible, glorious joy” (1 Peter 1), poured out by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5), on those who submit to God’s plan for their life even, especially, when it makes no earthly sense—like “blessed are those who mourn,” “blessed are those who are persecuted,” etc.

Blessed to the brim and overflowing with joy, despite her questions and her troubles, Mary could contain her joy no longer and burst into song: “My soul magnifies the Lord! My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Mary’s Magnificat is a masterpiece of Hebrew poetry and the inspiration for later masterpieces from Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach, Rachmaninoff, and many more.

Blessed indeed, and full of Christmas joy, are those who trust the Lord in the chaos of their questions and troubles, and submit their way to God’s way, for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are his ways above our ways (Isaiah 55).

How is that humanly possible? It’s only possible when we’re looking through the right end of our faith telescope. Looking through the wrong end magnifies us and our plans; looking through the right end magnifies God and his plans. “My soul magnifies the Lord!” proclaims Mary’s Magnificat, therefore “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” The secret to true joy and real happiness is this: “He must increase; we must decrease” (John 3).

Advent is a season of waiting and longing and hoping and preparing for the coming of Jesus. A time to make way once again for the coming of the Lord (Luke 3). A time to get our faith telescopes reoriented. A time to pray, along with Mary, in the words of the familiar carol: “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.”

And when he comes, he comes with trumpets blasting and angels singing: “I bring you good tidings of great joy!” (Luke 2). “This is that great and glad and merry and joyful news!” exclaimed 16th-century bible translator William Tyndale, “that causes us to burst forth in singing and dancing and leaping for joy!” This is the gospel.

Have you heard? Jesus is coming! Put on your dancing shoes.

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